Photo: Braden Summers
Over a year after publicly coming out in the May 6, 2013, issue of Sports Illustrated, Jason Collins has found that he no longer carries around the same burden he did his previous 12 years of basketball, during which he was living life as a closeted gay man.
When he signed with the Brooklyn Nets in February, Collins not only made history as the sport’s first openly gay player, but he also renewed his joy for the game. “The previous 12 years, I had that stress, that weight on my shoulders,” Collins explains by phone with Out. “This past season I didn't have that at all. I really enjoyed this season the most.”
That joy was in part thanks to being welcome with open arms by his new team coached by former teammate Jason Kidd.
“I was at ease when I was with the Brooklyn Nets,” Collins says of the team he initially joined for 10 games before being contracted to complete the season, which ended when the Nets lost to the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals.
The welcoming spirit was even extended to his boyfriend, who Collins says joined him on the road. “One of the road trips we did to Miami, my boyfriend came with me,” Collins says of being accepted by his teammates. “It goes back to feeling welcome and feeling a part of a team, a part of a family.”
His renewed spirit is also thanks to living an “authentic life,” something he’s now encouraging other gay people to do by endorsing campaigns, such as Marriott International’s “#LoveTravels”, which aims to make everyone feel comfortable being who they are, everywhere they travel.
“I want to encourage people to live an authentic life,” Collins explains as he expands his role off the court. In addition to the Marriott campaign, which launched ahead of Pride, Collins has become the face of Nike’s “Be True” sportswear line, marched in Boston's pride parade, and even advised Michael Sam before the St. Louis Rams draftee came out.
“Being a gay professional athlete, I want to feel welcome when I walk through the door,” Collins says of finding acceptance on the court. Though his words speak to a larger truth: being accepted anytime, anywhere.